Wrong tactics

The expectations of those who saw yesterday’s parliamentary debate as a chance for a major revelation or, at least, an exploration of the causes of corruption and lack of transparency in the Greek State were sorely disappointed. Trying to pre-empt opposition leader Costas Karamanlis, Prime Minister Costas Simitis chose to deny the problem and instead referred to isolated ills that can only be tackled through citizens’ cooperation with the police and judicial authorities. If this was a way to shirk a blatant problem, his sloganeering reached a climax as he connected conservative New Democracy’s statement about the «reinvention of the state» with the authoritarian delirium of late dictator Giorgios Papadopoulos. The fact that a prime minister of post-1974 Greece submitted a book written by Papadopoulos for inclusion in the Parliament’s minutes completed the blunder. Faced with this approach, Karamanlis gave a full listing of the problems plaguing the Greek State, from assignments of public works to the operation of public utilities. But the wide range of his references did not allow for and, in any case, was not coupled with a thorough critique of specific cases: That would be necessary not in order to air specific names but to illustrate the workings of the entire network of corruption. A good example, using Karamanlis’s references, is that the financial crimes squad (SDOE) and tax consultants are overwhelmingly staffed with PASOK followers. The data made an impression, but did not get at the most essential question, which is why these posts are doled out to party supporters: Is it so that SDOE can be controlled by the government, as Karamanlis suggested, or because these posts are popular among tax officers – hence creating pressure to reserve them for party friends? The next question, why these posts are so popular, cannot take many answers. The only one available leads us to one of the most typical aspects of systemic corruption. For the Greek citizen, yesterday’s debate was pointless. But if the opposition wants the citizen to learn from Parliament something beyond what he gets from newspaper headlines, then it has to focus its criticism on specific issues and avoid vague talk about the State’s shortcomings or the characteristics of a capitalist economy. A more profound approach would be more effective, as it would force the government to abandon its references to the military dictatorship and give specific answers – if it has any.